What is the use of core values? 

I have been thinking about the word ‘value’ for a while now. It’s quite a big thing in management at the moment. 

I have noticed that the word is used in two ways: as ‘added value’ and as ‘core value’. 

Added value 

Value then is ‘what you bring about’. It is the contribution that you as an organisation make to the outside world; the performance that you realise for your customers. Like health for your patients, mobility for your train passengers, safety for citizens and professionalism for your students. 

Added value is the reason that you are exist as an organisation. Talking about it is indispensable to give legitimacy, direction and focus to change. 

Our core values 

Core value is then ‘what you are inside’. It is an attitude characteristic of an ideal employee. I know of almost no organisation that does not have a list of usually three or four core values: 

“Personal, connecting and curious” 

“Reliable, open, relevant and driven” 

“Honest, trustworthy, courageous and committed”. 

My struggle is with this second meaning. While Googling I saw that the idea of core values is that they give direction to actions. 

But I don’t see that they do that anywhere. 

Employees don’t know them, they shrug their shoulders or they feel the pointing finger. The discussion remains abstract, is mainly about others and has become detached from daily work. So there is no reflection, and nothing changes. 


I am confused. One inner voice calls out: shouldn’t we just stop all this empty talk about core values, so that we can spend all our precious time on the essential conversation about added value? While another one objects: if so many organisations choose to formulate core values, it must have added value for them? 

What am I missing? 

Annemarie Mars, March 2022

Photocredits: “cedar waxwing birds berries” by watts_photos is marked with CC BY 2.0.

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